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Where is God When I’m in Pain?

As a leader, sometimes I’m called upon to inflict pain. I have to make decisions that hurt people in order to achieve some larger purpose. The danger in doing so is that I can keep that pain at arm’s length. It’s hard to embrace pain, even when that may be what God is calling you to do. I have to…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

As a leader, sometimes I’m called upon to inflict pain. I have to make decisions that hurt people in order to achieve some larger purpose. The danger in doing so is that I can keep that pain at arm’s length. It’s hard to embrace pain, even when that may be what God is calling you to do. I have to continually press into pain in life if I’m to lead well.

If you have proven yourself trustworthy to God, watch out! He may trust you with one of his most precious and misinterpreted of gifts: the gift of pain.

The prosperity gospel people have it wrong. God is probably more interested in our response to testing than he is in showering us with material blessings.

How will you do in tough times?  This is the age-old bet that Satan makes with God, the best example of which we see in the book of Job.  It goes like this: “I’ll bet your servant is just in it for the good times, let’s see how he does with a little pain in his life.”

You may say to me, “Yeah, that’s easy for you to say, you’ve never gone through what’s happened to me… you don’t understand my pain.”  And my answer is, you’re right. I can’t understand your pain. But while our family is exceedingly blessed, we have also known pain of our own.  

Our personal pain

In particular, my youngest daughter has experienced more pain than anyone should ever have to go through.  When she was young, she had a chronic infection in her ears that was extremely painful, making it hard for her to hear.  In addition to her physical pain, she struggled just to understand what people were saying.  Then, when she was a little older, we discovered that her palate wasn’t fully formed.  Issues of memory and learning became more apparent.

Despite numerous surgeries, she has not been able to articulate words as most people do.  When she was a teenager, she began having seizures.  She has been labeled by professionals and isolated from her peers.  She has struggled with what it means to be different.  Loneliness is her frequent companion.  Every week Karen used to take her an hour away to see specialists.

And we as parents have carried the burdens of crushed hopes while trying to meet all the special needs.

I don’t have any answers for her when I see her heart broken because other people have friends and she doesn’t.  When she looks at me with eyes that say, “Daddy, it’s not fair,” I don’t have answers for her. 

It’s not fair!  Why is it that some people never seem to catch a break?  All I know is that the pain they experience can send them to Jesus’ feet faster than other people.  That’s why he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  The brokenhearted need Jesus more than the rest of us.

We have a choice

Because it’s not fair that my daughter – or anyone else – should be saddled with so much pain, we have a choice.  We can either shake our fists at an all-powerful God who seemingly put us in this mess, or we can choose to trust and worship him, knowing that somehow he will redeem it.

As hard as it is to say it, we don’t have any other choice.  All of us who have experienced pain, as my daughter has, would seem to have a right to be angry at God and to allow that anger to crystallize into bitterness. 

But we can’t go there – our Creator God is the author of all life.  Somehow in the midst of the pain, even through tears, we have to trust him. He is the “Father of lights” who, the Bible tells us, gives us good and perfect gifts.As we trust him, we do so believing that he does answer us.  We believe that if that answer doesn’t stop our pain, at least it redeems it. 

Yes, we don’t understand what we’ve had to go through. Still, we will stand with Job and say, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.”  We’ll follow Leah as she follows God, knowing that her faith is often stronger than ours. When sometimes we half-step our way to God, she is usually able to trust him with her whole heart. 

God is betting on you

All of your life, you’ll have opportunities to incubate a vindictive spirit when bad and painful things happen. You’ll have repeated chances to turn and blame God.  But if you have a testimony of patience and long-suffering in the face of pain, then God wins the high stakes bet he placed on you.

The Bible talks about experiencing the “fellowship of his sufferings.” That’s not a fellowship any of us willingly choose. What does that even look like?

I’ll tell you what it looks like. It looks like a dance I went to last week. It was a dance especially for people with special needs. They were lame, deformed, and spastic. Dwarves and Downs Syndrome. The kind of people children point at. And they were dancing for all they were worth. Leah among them.

It was glorious. If they were poor in spirit, they didn’t know it. And if you looked closely, for a second, I swear you could see Jesus dancing, right in the middle of them.

I’m pretty sure I heard him laughing too. So will we all one day.

If you find yourself in a hard place this week, I hope you know down deep that God is betting on you. You are one of his greatest creations. And sometimes God uses pain to reveal that greatness.

Comments (46)

  • And often the greatest pain is that that comes from other believers. I have seen so many good, caring people hurt by others in churches. It doesn’t in any change my beliefs about and faith in God. It is a disappointing example of the brokenness of this world. In the next, we will all love and support each other.

  • Hi friend of three decades and with a heart you know loves your clan…and more.

    Seth in these days of incredible opportunity to blow wind into the sails of the global gospel message I am so thankful to know you, Karen and your incredible “brood” for whom I pray most days…..

    You have walked through pain and you intimately know mine.

    Pax Christi.

  • Seth – That was well said. Didn’t know I needed to hear this today but I know now that I did. Thank you.

  • I’m in one of several spots on the globe where pain seems to have successfully permeated into almost everything and everyone. Everyone has a deep scar or a fresh emotional damage that ONLY God can fix. How can people live with so much pain for so long?

    Just yesterday, a woman came to see me. She’d done some terrible things she’d never told anyone. We shared our shame, life pains and struggles with recovery.

    It’s difficult to have apt answers for our goofs or other people’s, with painful consequences. How do we begin to discover the Father’s hand in all these??

    If the magnitude of pain one can handle is indicative of potential greatness, then I’m surrounded by possibly, the greatest people one could ever meet.

    God’s bet on the peoples of South Sudan must yield a hundredfold, otherwise, this suffering is in vain.

  • Thank you, Seth, for these words. As a parent of a current racer, I have enjoyed your post and only last week read the original post. The years for our family have brought times of heartache and pain that I must say have often caused me to have my moments of shaking my fists and screaming out to God. In the midst of the pain and unknown, especially when it has directly affected my children, my fears and questions and yes, even those moments if doubt, have crowded my soul. BUT ALWAYS, He has been faithful to carry us through! Now as I look back on those days of pain – I see the handwork of God as HE made something GOOD out if my heartache and pain…just as His Word promises that He will do. He is faithful and good even as He uses the difficulties of this life to build US into something GOOD.

    By the way, my husband and I are looking forward to being on the PVT to Ireland and having the opportunity to meet you.

  • When Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, indicted in a crime he did not commit, and forgotten by the man who was supposed to get him out of jail, where was God?

    When Job had lost everything that was dear to him, where was God?

    He Shares in Our Suffering

    The truth is that, in the midst of unimaginable pain and tragedy, God is with us. He shares in our suffering. No matter what we endure, He is working behind the scenes to fulfill His purposes in our lives. God is victorious—and nothing can thwart His plans.

    The true question is not where is God but why He allows this and why He does not prevent it from happening. Funny thing about Faith is that it can’t be shared or given but like a mussel, it must be exercised. Trials are what stretch us and it provide us that certainty even though our eyes can’t see. I’ve learned that we have become myopic and focus on the thorn (not that it is not painful or insignificant) but compare to God’s plan, it is minuscule.

    “To believe in God is to be able to see that He has all power and all might over evil, for God does not just sit idly by, carelessly observing the suffering of His creatures. No, He enters into our suffering. He shares in our suffering.”

    -Dr. Youssef

    God bless you and your family, Keith

  • Thanks for sharing this! It’s encouraging and heart warming. My life was conceived in pain and feels like I haven’t caught a break since…always feeling burdened. Always, always, always great to be reminded that God truly is in the midst of it all! Hard to not feel distance sometimes which I know is what the enemy wants. We wind up hurting ourselves more when we listen to those voices that are misleading us. Challenge when it feels they’re louder than God’s.

  • “They were lame, deformed, and spastic. Dwarves and Downs Syndrome. The kind of people children point at. And they were dancing for all they were worth. ,,,If they were poor in spirit, they didn’t know it. And if you looked closely, for a second, I swear you could see Jesus dancing, right in the middle of them. I’m pretty sure I heard him laughing too.”

    I just saw a glimpse of the Kingdom.

  • Thank you, Seth, for this beautiful post. Through life’s greatest struggles and pain, and even through anger at some of those struggles, I’ve learned to lean on God more and more, and that true joy can only come from Him. My own special little girl has taught me so much about unconditional love, patience, perseverance and the peace that comes with simplicity. Her simple faith is unquestioning and beautiful, and I believe her innocence and her struggles help her to understand and know Gods love in a special way. (I love what you said about Jesus dancing in their midst!!!) We can all learn a lot from these precious children!

    God has blessed my family so much in many ways through the years…but I’ve come to believe that learning to see God’s hand in everything and learning to trust Him, even through the painful times, is the true blessing. In my own life, I look back at some of the most difficult times when I had no idea why God was allowing Mike and I to go through something, when we had to “embrace pain” as you said, and realize that He was guiding us all along. Sometimes He has brought us out of it, safely on the other side. And sometimes He has taught us (or is continually teaching us) to seek joy and peace in Him despite the pain.

    “It’s hard to embrace pain, even when that may be what God is calling you to do. I have to continually press into pain in life if I’m to lead well.” This is why you are a great leader. We will continue to lift you up in prayer as you follow what God is calling you to do!

  • Working in learning support I could especially appreciate the end of your teaching today. As well as a lot of pain in my life, I have experienced the heights of joy some may never experience within the pain, not at the end of it. Jesus is in the boat with us when the storms come, and if we can see (by eyes of faith) that He is there we can endure it. We can even laugh, dance, and have joy In it, not after it. Yes there are times when we cannot feel any joy whatsoever. LIke the months that followed losing my Angela on 2-7-13 from Heroin. I still have those regularly. Jesus holds me when I cannot stand. He helps us to face pain with others too. He calls us to weep with those who weep. To be with people no one wants to be with. To not be high minded. There’s something very special about that.

  • This was really great Seth. Pain is such a hard thing and the old self can’t deal with it as good as the new self worshipping the Father despite it all.

  • Hey Butch – you have been a blessing. Thanks for your friendship thru all these years and all this pain.

  • Uche – I’m standing with you. I will not die a happy man unless I can see the glory of God come to South Sudan with my own eyes.

  • Sammye – I look forward to hearing more of your story. So glad that you’ll be along for the ride in Ireland!

  • I so appreciate the encouragement, Amy. You know from talking to Mike how hard it has been.

    And you, as with us, know what it is like to continually pour yourself out for a child with special needs. It ends up being a gift. It softens you so much. Who knows what kind of a messed up person I’d be without Leah!

  • Sandy, good to hear from you. I’ve wondered how you’ve been doing this past year. As I’ve walked thru the aftermath of a drug-related suicide of a friend’s son, it has been so incredibly hard. His family can totally relate to what you describe.

  • You’re welcome, Alan. You and I have shared many conversations about the pain we absorb in raising our children.

  • I’ve witnessed your growth. Observed when no one knew.

    You’ve been a real encouragement in spite of the geographic separation.

  • Thank you for sharing this, Seth. This is probably one of the most powerful and beautiful things I’ve seen you post. Thank you for opening up not only about your daughter’s pain, but what it means for you and your wife to witness it. That picture of Jesus dancing, I bet, is pretty spot on.

  • Genesis 6 introduces us to a(THE) God who knows and experiences pain. He was grieved by the violence and corruption that filled the earth. The ability to experience pain is part of the Imago Dei. Not always sure it is the part I like…

  • I am there. I feel little to no support with my church. I thought they were my family. I feel so terribly alone these days.

  • Right now I am struggling with how to share my hurt and pain. The church does not seem to handle grief well at all. People think, unless they have walked in your shoes, that you should be well over things after some time passes. The fact is you never get “over” the loss of a child. Losing an adult child and in a traumatic way is a deep sudden rip out of your life. It never leaves. God is in the midst of it, not the outskirts. Yet the body of Christ cannot seem to come into that midst and be, they feel unless they are giving answers – fixing you – trying to “pray” you out of the pain that they are do you a disservice. The very fact they are doing this IS a disservice.

  • This is truth. There is no escaping pain in this life. They will know we are His disciples by our love we show for one another, in All circumstances.

  • Here is what Mike Bickle says and it is RADICAL Seth!

    “One of the primary biblical principles for healing or restoring wounded relationships is to make a godly appeal (Mt. 18:15)

    We go to the brother or sister who sinned against us to make an appeal. A godly appeal means an appeal based on biblical principles. We must not draw back from the relationship in isolation but we must actually go to them. What happens often is that people get into a conflict, and the offended party simply retreats from the relationship instead of going to the person who offended them to talk to them. They avoid the other person and retreat into silence.

    The Word of God exhorts us to go to them instead of of retreating. Communicate with them. Do not be nave, thinking the relationship will just heal itself. Relationships do not just heal themselves. If there is an offense, even a minor offense that is taking root, and it is not healed, if it is not restored, it will often escalate and become a greater offense. When we do go we must speak in an attitude and tone that is kind, gentle and tender (Gal. 6:1).

    Jesus spoke about how to make a godly appeal to restore a wounded relationship. He said to go” to your brother (Mt. 5:23-24 and 18:15). The word, brother,” is generic. It may be your spouse, a dear friend, a co-worker, your child. The point is go to the person who offended you or whom you offended.

    Jesus applied this principle of the godly appealgoing to your brotherin two very distinct ways. Jesus presented two very different situations. First, if we have something against our brother, that is if the brother is troubling us, then we should go to him. Then Jesus turned it totally around and said that if you have troubled the brother, you go to him. So whether they are troubling you or you are troubling them, He says to the godly believer who wants to obey Him, Go to your brother. Take responsibility in both situations. Take the initiative to make the first step to see healing and restoration in the relationship.

    The Lord commands us to take initiative in both cases. In fact, every believer is commanded to go to their brother in both situations. The result is that if only one of the two obeys, the process of restoration and healing begins. As sincere believers before Him, we want to be committed to obey in both situations. “Lord, we want to do what You say in Your Word, and we want to love people in the way that You define love, therefore, we will go to our brother when one of us is offended or troubled.”

    Jesus said that His people will be called “sons of God” when they are peacemakers. Why? Because it is so rare for people to consistently exert the time and effort to be a peacemaker, with humility, tenderness, and wisdom. Whether this is making peace in their own conflicts, or being an arbitrator for two other parties, it is contrary to human nature to spend our time to do this consistently and tenderly for no selfish agenda but because it is pleasing to God and it blesses others. Thus when people do this consistentlynot occasionally but consistentlyJesus said that those who observe it will conclude they are like our heavenly Father in kindness, motivation and love.” Like I said R A D I C A L – L O V E.

  • Pressing into pain is the only way through it. The only way to really learn how to minister to someone else.

  • Thanks Seth. You’re one of the real people out there with the name of Christ on your heart. I will rejoice to meet you someday, on earth or heaven.

  • Great post Seth! Our faith and walk in God is unimaginably unpredictable. God is interested in our pain. Be blessed friend.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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